CHILDREN suffering from physical and mental disabilities are given hope for a bright future at the Sunflower Centre in Miri.
Located near the Petronas Sports Village not far from the Miri City centre, it is a day-care centre managed by the Malaysian Red Crescent that offers basic education such as reading and writing, speech therapy, self-care skills, and vocational skills training like laundry, planting vegetables, grass-cutting, packing foodstuff and sorting out recyclable items.
The non-profit centre also gives physiotherapy, community support programmes, confidence-nurturing and sports-training to the children. Parents need to only pay a minimum charge per month to help keep Sunflower Centre running.
Some of the children had gone on to successfully gain full-time employment in supermarkets, fast-food outlets and hotels, centre chairperson Liza Chai told StarMetro.
“The centre has given a new lease of life to more than 200 physically and mentally challenged children over the years, teaching them to be self-reliant. What we do here is that we give them plenty of love and give them the necessary help physically and emotionally to help them deal with their physical and mental limitations.
“We want to teach them to be self-reliant so that when they grow up, they can be as independent as possible and live a life that is meaningful in society,” Chai said.
The centre, which currently has 80 children, is run by a small group of dedicated individuals led by Chai who has been with the centre since 1984, two years after it was set up.
Chai is being helped by Catherine Kho, Dayang Fauziah, Lahung Ngau, Helen Sima, Jaluee Akup, Luziana Teruki, Sundai Rekan, Teraju Balin, Marinie Ami, Norsiha Isa, Hu Lee and Hassan John.
Regular volunteers include housewives and students.
Two nurses from the Columbia Asia Medical Centre also come to the centre to give physiotherapy regularly.
Two student-volunteers Chin Ga Li, 18, and Sim Wen Hui, 20, said they wanted to spend time here because the children were so special.
“We volunteer our time during the school holidays. These kids inspire me a lot. I want to understand them and also be close to them and help them in whatever way I can,” said Chin.
She said she enjoyed communicating with the children.
“I feel a special bond with them. They inspire me to be a better person,” she added.
Chai said the centre welcomed special children from all races and religions.
“Every child, regardless of race and religion, deserves a chance to learn and live life to the fullest. We pledge to do our best to help each child become the best he or she can be,” she said.
Hamdia Bujang, the mother of Siti Rashidah, 5, who suffers from celebral palsy, said when Siti came to the centre a few months ago, she was unable to even chew her food.
“Now, with the care and physical therapy given here, Siti has started eating small amounts of solid food. Siti smiles a lot now,” said Hamdia.
She praised the centre’s staff for their dedication and hardwork.
It is not all work and no play for the children though. They also take part in sports and games.
Every year, they take part in a mini Special Olympics in the city.
“Training is very important because it not only keeps them physically healthy but also helps develop their social contacts as they get to know more people and enjoy the activities with others in the community,” Chai said.
Chai said the centre needed a lot of financial help to maintain its operation every month.
“We operate totally on support from the community and we need a lot of donations and financial sponsorship in order to survive,” she said.
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan at a recent function at the centre said he could not find the words to describe his gratitude to the staff.
“I don’t think I can say enough thank yous to Liza and her team at Sunflower for what they are doing for the children. The state government is proud to know there is such a caring organisation out there,” he said.
Indeed, the Sunflower Centre is a centre of hope.
Together with similar organisations like Pemulihan Dalam Komuniti Miri and Persatuan Penyayang Kanak-Kanak Istimewa Miri, Sunflower is bringing sunshine into the lives of the special children who would otherwise be living in isolation, hopelessness and sadness.